OPP Meeting Summary: EP Plenary – Council and Commission statements – Protecting the integrity of the European elections, with particular regard to international threats to cybersecurity (16 April 2019)

A summary of the statements and reactions from the political groups is now available.

EP Plenary – 16 April 2019
Council and Commission statements – Protecting the integrity of the European elections, with particular regard to international threats to cybersecurity

Melania Gabriela Ciot, President-in-Office of the Council

Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union

Danuta Maria Hübner (EPP, PL)

  • she thanked the Council and the Commission for their strong commitment to cybersecurity;
  • elections were an important element of democracy;
  • compromised cybersecurity in elections could lead to the loss of confidence in the electoral system, in democratic processes and in leadership;
  • Europeans were increasingly aware and worried about all aspects of electoral security. A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that 61% were concerned about possible manipulation of the European elections;
  • a society-wide approach was necessary as well as international cooperation;
  • amending European regulations on the statute and financing of European political parties and foundations, introducing financial sanctions on European political parties or foundations that infringed data protection as well as the Commission’s actions to build strong cybersecurity in Europe were all actions that would enable citizens to make political choices in fair, secure and transparent elections.

Claude Moraes (S&D, UK)

  • he welcomed the measures taken by the Commissioner. It was a tough issue;
  • electoral interference had been proven. It would happen again and there was a sense of urgency;
  • when the Commission followed up Parliament’s calls on a code of conduct and reported on the code of practice against disinformation, the results showed that the Commission had warned that Facebook still had 116 million fake accounts on its platforms;
  • he stated that it was about online as well as offline actions. It was not only about cybersecurity;
  • the Parliament had called for full algorithmic accountability and transparency, which was essential for citizens to be able to protect themselves against manipulation and for protecting electoral processes. The use of social platforms for campaign purposes by political parties also needed to be examined;
  • concerning offline actions, electoral safeguards were necessary. He mentioned rules on transparency and limits to spending, respect for silence periods, equal treatment of candidates, banning of profiling for electoral purposes, labelling of content shared by bots and increasing the speed of removal of fake accounts as examples;
  • he stressed that the GDPR was not the only model for protection. The deadlock on the ePrivacy Regulation needed to end to ensure that the rights of citizens, especially against targeting, were protected.
  • there were three regulators in the world: China, the United States and the EU. He was in the EU and he wanted the EU to act on foreign actors interfering in European elections. He asked what was more important than that ahead of the elections.

Bill Etheridge (EFDD, UK), blue-card question

  • responding to Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), he stated that there was a danger that if governments began to apply those tools, free speech – particularly online – could be affected.

Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), blue-card answer

  • he stated that they were not just talking about free speech but also interference in sovereign elections by foreign powers;
  • this was proven issue in the 2016 presidential election and a proven issue in the Brexit referendum;
  • when that interference happened, democratic structures were made unstable and many things like free speech would also become unstable;
  • he stated that he also held free speech very dear, but unless there was integrity in elections through online and offline checks, they would have nothing.

Anna Elżbieta Fotyga (ECR, PL)

  • information techniques, technology and influence operations had been used by Russia against the West for a long time, includin during elections;
  • it was to faith and confidence in democracy, to exacerbate existing divisions, to confuse truth and to amplify narratives that were friendly to Russia;
  • a third reading had been completed in the State Duma of the legal act isolating the Russian internet from the rest of the world. The EU needed to learn about the reasons for this for the security of both European and Russian people.

Pavel Telička (ALDE, CZ)

  • he believed that it was correct to say that proress had been made, but the Commissioner was also correct in saying that more efforts needed to be made; 
  • he mentioned the recent negotiations on the Cybersecurity Act;
  • he did not see the recognition from a number of Member States that the EU was facing threats, whether it concerned European elections or other elections, lives or safety;
  • it was a reality that there were “Trojan horses” in the EU. He stressed that a mindset change was necessary.

Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL, PT)

  • it was a very complex problem. Fake news and interference were combatted through cybersecurity, but not only that;
  • the right to information needed to be defenced and journalists needed to be protected otherwise access to viral and unverified information online would continue to proliferate;
  • she also mentioned Facebook’s update of privacy rules;
  • cybersecurity solutions were necessary, but also more actions concerning digital education and the protection of journalism.

Klaus Buchner (Greens/EFA, DE)

  • legislators were still at the beginning of protecting fair and free elections in the digital age;
  • current actions came “very late” but were a first and through attempt. He thanked the Commission for taking the issue seriously;
  • he urged the Council to end the blockage of the dual-use Regulation proposal. Hostile forces could easily use European technology to influence European elections, among other things.

Bill Etheridge (EFDD, UK) 

  • he stated that the EU was protecting itself from “evil Russians who are controlling the internet” but did not worry about the fact that it could lead to censorship and control of free speech;
  • he stated that the power of establishment over mainstream media was unparalleled;
  • he warned against increasing state and government power and the risks posed to the freedom of expression and the freedom.

Pavel Telička (ALDE, CZ), blue-card question

  • he agreed with Bill Etheridge (EFDD, UK) on the issue of freedom of expression, but he stated that he did not detect any concern concerning possible cyberattacks and interference in European or other national elections. He questioned whether Bill Etheridge (EFDD, UK) shared that concern, and if he did, how he would tackle it.

Bill Etheridge (EFDD, UK), blue-card answer

  • he stated that he shared that concern and did not want any interference that got in the way of free elections;
  • however, it was a choice between the risk of giving up the freedom of expression and the risk of the state, potentially towards the road of totalitarianism, he stated that he would choose the risk involved in free speech. He accepted that Europe needed to avoid foreign agency interference.

Commissioner King

Melania Gabriela Ciot

  • it was the EU’s duty to protect elections with the full respect of fundamental rights;
  • she stated that the upcoming elections would not be “business as usual” and European citizens needed to have the right to vote freely;
  • the EU institutions had not wasted any efforts in ensuring preparedness and were ready for any possible challenges.

The simultaneous interpretation of debates provided by the EU institutions serves only to facilitate communication amongst the participants in the meeting. It does not constitute an authentic record of proceedings. One Policy Place uses these translations so this text is only a guide and should not be relied on as an official account of the meeting. Only the original speech or the revised written translation of that speech is authentic.

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